Foreigner

At the kids’ gym today I met a very gregarious, sociable daddy who looked me straight in the eye, smiled, responded to comments, and didn’t freak out when addressed.

“So you just came to the area?” I asked.

“Yes!” he said. “Moved here from Michigan just three weeks ago. How did you guess?”

The only thing I don’t like about this region is how horrible everybody is at basic human contact.

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8 thoughts on “Foreigner”

  1. Tangential, but perhaps not entirely: I recently wrote an essay (submitted for pub as creative nonfiction) about how everyone is freaked out by my accent. I think the fact that I look like everyone else around here but have a light, ambiguous accent is really disorienting and in fact angers a lot of people; they feel like I am deceiving them on purpose by looking like I’m one of them.

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  2. The only thing I don’t like about this region is how horrible everybody is at basic human contact.
    Why are people bad at it in your area?

    I think the fact that I look like everyone else around here but have a light, ambiguous accent is really disorienting and in fact angers a lot of people; they feel like I am deceiving them on purpose by looking like I’m one of them

    Yes. You can hear the gears grinding in their brain as they try to reconcile the two.

    Of course I don’t look like them but I sound “like them.” (Well, I sound like a Yankee but in this part of Florida a lot of people are transplants, so there’s not a specific local accent.) Do they start insisting you explain yourself?

    It’s almost funny.

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    1. Do they start insisting you explain yourself?

      Oh, absolutely. The usual. Where I am from–even though we share a five-second interaction, I’m supposed to reveal my life story–which really means “State your business.” How often I go home (’cause home couldn’t possibly be here).

      I bet you get “But where are you reeeeeeeally from?”

      I have a colleague of South Asian descent who was born and grew up ~3 miles from here. He constantly gets weird looks and questions about his reeeeeeal roots; people just won’t believe that he is, in fact, a 100% local kid.

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  3. That would be a huge “only thing” for me, but I think I’m probably more social than you. I live in Queens (in NYC) where it’s common for people to have accents and/ or have some recent immigration experience in their background. And contrary to stereotypes about NYC, people tend to be friendly, especially on the playground.

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    1. It’s huge for me too because I suffer in socially awkward situations. And here I feel weird even saying hi to neighbors because they freak out.

      But this is very regional. I never had this problem in Florida, New York, Indiana or anywhere else where I’ve been. In NYC people are super friendly, in my experience.

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      1. IME, Midwesterns (outside academia) are freaked out by accents. I think it has to do with people generally staying closer to the place they grew up in/moving around less than much of the rest of America and thus being hypersensitive to and distrustful of those who are different.

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  4. I live in a different state than you but still in the general Midwest and I agree: the people here are so unsociable. And to me, more problematic than the unsociability, is that everyone seems so expressionless. Like the entire state is flat lining. I don’t have an accent but I tend to be a energetic communicator: I speak quickly, use my hands a lot, have varied facial expressions. And sometimes I feel like an utter alien here.

    But one of my best friends here is from Michigan. And if I have a student who seems a bit more lively and peppy? Generally from Michigan. Somehow Michigan seems to have escaped the affectless form of expression that seems to be the curse of this region. So the fact that someone from Michigan seemed so foreign in your setting made me laugh.

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